June 23, 2013
The leaders of the New York state Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are patting themselves (and each other) on the back for a legislative session that produced agreements on casino gambling, tax-free zones for startup businesses and reforms to binding arbitration that may help struggling Upstate cities.
But their abject failure to agree on measures to curb corruption in state government overshadows those accomplishments. Their inaction is beyond shameful, coming on the heels of the arrest of two legislators, the jailing of two more and the resignation of a third — and that’s just this year.
How could Albany get away with not addressing the cancer in its soul? There’s plenty of blame to go around.
You can start with the Assembly. It can’t police itself. The body it created to do so, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, is so impotent, it failed to sanction Speaker Sheldon Silver for covering up a sexual harassment scandal. The Assembly rank-and-file couldn’t muster the will to send Silver packing, ensuring the status quo would prevail. However, the Assembly did pass a one-house election reform bill.
Next, look at the Senate. Democrats hold a fractured majority in that house, but the Republicans remain in power thanks to a coalition they formed with the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference. The IDC’s entire reason for being was to bring progressive legislation to the floor, but it never put up its own reform bill for a vote. As time ran out, the IDC backed mainline Democrats who tried to attach the Assembly’s campaign finance bill as a hostile amendment. Sen. Democrat Malcolm Smith, recently arrested on bribery charges and a former IDC member, was a no-show for the procedural vote. Sen. Ruben Diaz, another Democrat, voted no. And so did every Senate Republican.
And then there’s Cuomo. The governor talked tough about going after corruption and reforming election laws, including a system of public campaign financing. He held a couple of press conferences with district attorneys to drum up public support. (Onondaga County DA William Fitzpatrick wrote an op-ed in support of the bill.) But as the session wound down, most of his energy was devoted to the tax-free zone bill and the Women’s Equality Agenda.
As Cuomo declared the reform bill dead just days after unveiling it, the governor said he’d appoint a Moreland Act commission instead to investigate legislative corruption. That will not be a slam-dunk. And it should not be an excuse for dropping efforts to pass anti-corruption legislation. The governor should call a special session to get it done.
In the end, nobody busted a gut to rein in Albany corruption. An exception appears to be U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, the prosecutor who busted two legislators earlier this year. In an interview last week with YNN’s “Capitol Tonight,” Bharara said, “You can expect more cases to come, because there is a lot more corruption that has not yet been brought to light.”
And you can expect corruption to persist until Albany gets serious about stopping it. The Legislature has squandered the public’s trust. The public should remember that the next time they go to the polls.
Read more: http://blog.syracuse.com/opinion/2013/06/albany_was_all_talk_and_no_act.html